Do I really need protein after every run or just my hard sessions?

ASK THE SPORTS DIETITIAN Sports Dietitians Australia member Amy Giannotti is a personal trainer, provisional sports dietitian and co-owner of Eating Fit. Amy recently completed a half marathon, 28km trail run and is currently in training for her next triathlon. Amy’s work involves group and personal training, dietetic consultations, education seminars, health retreats, writing, and she is about to release her own food product, a breakfast staple, “Amy’s grains”.

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Q  Do I really need protein after every run or just my hard sessions?

A  The role of the post-training meal or snack is to refuel, rehydrate and repair. Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores (carbohydrate stores in muscle and liver); water and sport drinks correct fluid and/or electrolytes lost through sweat; and protein helps repair muscle tissue and red blood cells. Providing adequate nutrition also supports the immune system, decreasing our risk of getting sick. This means that you can train consistently without annoying breaks to recover from colds and flus!

Training is the stimulus for protein and glycogen resynthesis so providing the body with the fuel and building blocks it needs after a training session will allow it to recover quickly and adapt to the training stimulus. This can be seen as the ‘window of opportunity’ to maximise your speedy recovery by refuelling and rebuilding with carbohydrate and protein. Although this is a great opportunity to maximise the rate at which your body replenishes glycogen and repairs muscle tissue via protein, meeting your overall target or requirement for the day is most important.(1)

If your goals are to increase fitness, strength, power, endurance, change your body composition or to turn your body into an energy burning machine by building lean muscle (increase metabolism), then there is a lot to be gained by giving your body the fuel and building blocks it needs to recover fast for your next session! You can imagine if you’re lacking in energy and your muscles feel like they are still recovering, you’re not going to be able to give it your best effort in your ‘harder session’ compromising your strength and fitness gains.


What if you’re on an energy budget or trying to lose weight during training?

For a speedy recovery the same rules exist but you need to look at your total energy intake. We know weight loss requires an energy deficit (energy out to be higher than energy in) but smart timing of meals and snacks around training is the key. Not only does carbohydrate refuel the glycogen it also stimulates an increase in the hormone insulin, which stimulates the muscle to take up the amino acids (protein).

The easiest way to tick all boxes is to schedule your training so it is followed by a main meal or snack containing both protein and carbohydrate. This time is preferably within about 60 minutes. This way you’re not eating additional food and kilojoules. Eating a meal or snack with protein after exercise may also help with satiety (keeping you feeling full).

Some athletes have a poor appetite immediately after training and a main meal may be difficult. If so, a chilled liquid that is easy to digest may be preferable and then ensuring a main meal is eaten within the next 2-4 hours.


References: 1. Beelen M, Burke LM, Gibala MJ, van Loon LJ. Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Dec; 20(6): 515-32.


SDA Sports Dietitians Australia

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